DCPS creates waiver process for athletes seeking fifth-year eligibility

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson recently approved a hardship waiver process that allows eligible students to play athletics beyond their eighth semester of high school, a move that follows last fall’s long-anticipated rules change banning fifth-year seniors from playing sports.

DCPS officials insisted this week they will “be very stringent” on granting waivers, although some of the requirements for seeking them are broad.

“It has to be a true definition of a hardship,” said DCPS Chief of Schools John Davis, who works closely with athletics.

The policy, approved by Henderson on May 23, is essentially a two-page form. Applicants can seek a waiver for any of the following seven reasons:

• Incapacitating physical/mental illness of student;

• Incapacitating physical/mental illness of member of student’s immediate family;

• Death of student’s immediate family member or other close relative;

• Incapacitating physical injury of student;

• Pregnancy of student;

• Instability of change in student’s home/custody situation;

• Any other circumstances which is beyond the student’s control, but poses a significant hardship that prevents the student from participating in athletics during a season of eligibility

After several years of allowing fifth-year seniors, DCPS officials ruled last fall that, starting in the 2012-13 academic year, a student’s athletic eligibility will be limited to eight consecutive semesters — bringing it in line with most other area jurisdictions.

“If you look at [the guidelines for a waiver], it seems like you can get in on any one of those provisions,” Dunbar athletic director Johnnie Walker said. “But [Davis] saying they’re looking at them case by case strictly, I believe what he says.”

Typical sports injuries will not qualify for a waiver, DCPS officials said, nor will divorced parents.

“That’s a normal occurrence of life,” Davis said. “We’re not going to allow those people to find loopholes and go through them. We’ll have a strict interpretation.”

Students hoping to play beyond their eighth semester next school year must submit a waiver application prior to the final day of this school year. New enrollees will be accepted on a case-by-case basis.

“There has to be a time in the next 10 years that someone is going to come to us with an extreme case,” said Davis, who said he strongly supports the eight-semester rule. “And we have to have the policy to do something.”

Students must state their case in the application, attach any relevant medical records or a social worker’s report, and receive signatures from their parent/guardian, principal and athletic director. The waivers will be approved on a case-by-case basis by a committee, which will consist of DCPS Athletic Director Stephanie Evans, a member of of the Office of General Counsel and others, Evans said.

School officials are looking for extreme circumstances such as homelessness. Poor grades, special needs students, cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder aren’t enough to qualify, Evans said.

“If they just had one class to take in their fifth year, that would be a pretty strong example that it’s not an extreme case,” Davis said.

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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